Written by
John Scott

Published
10 Dec 2015

Leadership in transition

10 Dec 2015 • by John Scott

We have lost a number over the past period - Nelson Mandela, Steve Jobs and Gabriel Garcia Marquez.  

It is difficult to think who their successors might be.

Perhaps this is because our notion of a great leader has taken a beating over a period of time.
Barack Obama has been a disappointment, although he started with expectations far beyond what any leader could deliver.  

Angela Merkel is a competent administrator who carefully builds relationships and alliances, although her response to the refugee crisis potentially marks her out as a world leader and compares very favourably to the leaden footed response of other politicians.

The recent Presidents of Brazil, Argentina and Chile are all women and compare very favourably to the generals and dictators of 40 years ago. 

... But I doubt any of them will ever be described as great.

In business, we have watched carefully since 2008 as institutions and economies have staggered if not collapsed.  Much of this was driven by leaders who were praised and lauded at the time, but were found to be wanting.  

A few have had their knuckles wrapped and their baubles taken away.  Very few have been held to account for their actions.  

It is clear that regulation and the political process appear to be powerless. We are now rightly sceptical of such leaders and the institutions which bred them. 
 
In the absence of a major war we are thankfully absent any military leaders of public stature.
Those who do hover into and then out of the public view, look and sound like public servants in uniform rather than military leaders.  For the moment, that is no bad thing.
 

In religion, the global stage has been empty for some time, although Archbishop Tutu remains a personal hero for his courage, firebrand oratory and great good humour.  

Pope Francis is interesting in any number of ways.  

He publicly and openly acknowledges the challenges facing the Catholic Church in language which is surprisingly frank; is modest in his approach and lifestyle; is focussed on the poor; is putting in place a number of structural changes which may turn this decrepit and deeply flawed institution around; and Francis is admired by many.  

Pope Francis will need to remain in the spotlight to prove that he and the Church are making progress. 

The Economist captures this well in a tongue in cheek article.  

We have paid a high price for the "great leader" and the "long awaited saviour”.

Perhaps the time is right for modest but very determined, self-effacing leaders who avoid the spotlight and get on with the job at hand.  


Tim Cook rather than Steve Jobs. Angela Merkel rather than Nicolas Sarkoszy. Shinzo Abe rather than Junichiro Koizumi, although I miss the rock and roll style.

The lonely leader and the great man model of leadership is over.

The team leader, which assumes active and engaged followers, and the leader as casting director, carefully selecting and nurturing talent, is upon us. And how very exciting.